Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals 29

Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Four.
Or, "Autistic Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Notes: I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made. Not by me, anyway.

There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though, but there's a lot more in this one than usual because it was unavoidable. Still, lots of details are changed, so don't skip by familiar parts or you might miss something.

Just as a reminder, so I don't have to shoehorn in descriptions in the text of the story as a reminder, but in this fanfic Harry and Hermione, apart from having Asperger's Syndrome, are both black as well.

'Italicized text between single quotes is almost always Parseltongue.'

Warning: This chapter has some naughty language in it. Sirius, in one part, makes liberal use of the f-bomb, among other words.

Chapter Five: Danger, Will Robinson!

They talked about the match well into the night, and only stopped when Ginny fell asleep at the table, spilling her cocoa. Luna and Xeno went back to their tent before that happened, though, as they were both exhausted.

“Oh I am glad I’m not on duty,” muttered Mr. Weasley sleepily. “I wouldn’t fancy having to go and tell the Irish they’ve got to stop celebrating.”

Harry, who was on a top bunk above Ron, lay staring up at the canvas ceiling of the tent, watching the glow of an occasional leprechaun lantern flying overhead, and picturing again some of Krum’s more spectacular moves. He fantasized about getting into a flying race with Krum, since he did like flying, just not playing Quidditch. At some point, the fantasy drifted into a dream instead. A dream of what, he didn't know, as he was soon awoken suddenly.

'HUMAN, WAKE UP! DANGER! I SENSE DANGER!'

Harry bolted up, grabbing his wand holster, checking to make sure his wand was there, and strapped his wand to his side.

'I don't hear anything unusual,' Harry told the snake.

'My danger sense is tingling, telling me something is happening, or is about to happen. Something not good. Get everyone up.'

'This better not be a false alarm.'

'I don't think it is.'

As he climbed out of bed, Harry thought he heard something. The noise of the celebration had changed. The singing had stopped. He could hear screams, and the sound of people running. He went over to where Ron was.

“Ron, wake up! Something bad is happening!”

“Five more minutes,” Ron muttered.

“No, NOW! DANGER!” He shook Ron awake, and Ron finally bolted up.

“Fine, fine, I'm... wait, what's those noises?”

Sirius, Remus, and Mr. Weasley ran into the room then, momentarily surprised Ron and Harry were already awake, but recovering quickly.

“Ron! Harry! Grab your wands and let's get out of here. It's not safe!” Sirius said.

“Got mine,” Harry said.

Ron grabbed his wand holster, and goggled at it. “My wand is gone!”

“Is it on the table?”

“No, I always have it in its holster. Bloody hell, I don't know where it is!”

Sirius tried Summoning Ron's wand, but nothing happened.

“No time, Ron!” Mr. Weasley said. “Grab a jacket and go with Sirius and Remus, they'll protect you. We'll go help the Ministry.”

Harry did as he was told and hurried out of the tent, Ron at his heels.

By the light of the few fires that were still burning, he could see people running away into the woods, fleeing something that was moving across the field toward them, something that was emitting odd flashes of light and noises like gunfire. Loud jeering, roars of laughter, and drunken yells were drifting toward them; then came a burst of strong green light, which illuminated the scene.

A crowd of wizards, tightly packed and moving together with wands pointing straight upward, was marching slowly across the field. Harry squinted at them. They were masked and hooded. He'd read the description before, so he knew they were Death Eaters, Voldemort’s followers.

More wizards were joining the marching Death Eaters, laughing and pointing up at the floating bodies. Tents crumpled and fell as the marching crowd swelled. Once or twice Harry saw one of the marchers blast a tent out of his way with his wand. Several caught fire. The screaming grew louder.

The floating people were suddenly illuminated as they passed over a burning tent and Harry recognized one of them: Mr. Roberts, the campsite manager. The other three looked as though they might be his wife and children. One of the marchers below flipped Mrs. Roberts upside down with his wand; her nightdress fell down to reveal voluminous drawers and she struggled to cover herself up as the crowd below her screeched and hooted with glee.

“That’s sick,” Ron muttered, watching the smallest Muggle child, who had begun to spin like a top, sixty feet above the ground, his head flopping limply from side to side. “That is really sick.”

The twins, Hermione, and Ginny joined them then, along with Sirius and Remus, with their sleeves rolled up and their wands out.

“We’re going to help the Ministry!” Mr. Weasley shouted over all the noise, rolling up his own sleeves. “You lot — get into the woods, and stick together. I’ll come and fetch you when we’ve sorted this out!”

Bill, Charlie, and Percy were already sprinting away toward the oncoming marchers; Mr. Weasley tore after them. Ministry wizards were dashing from every direction toward the source of the trouble. The crowd beneath the Roberts family was coming ever closer.

“Come on, you lot,” Sirius said, guiding everyone to the nearby wood they'd walked through to get to the match. Remus hung back to cover their flank.

Sirius lit his wand and told everyone else to do the same; the trace wouldn't know who had done what anyway, and the situation was one where the Ministry would forgive any magic anyway even if that weren't the case. Only Ron was left out, his wand missing. Sirius kept him and Harry as close to him as he could.

“Harry? Is that you?”

Draco came out of the shadows. He looked terrified, but relaxed a little when he saw Harry and Sirius.

“Draco? Where's your parents?”

“I don't know where they are. They told me to hide and find you, and then they both took off.”

“Gone to join that masked lot, have they?” Ron asked nastily.

“I don't bloody well know, Weasley! I just bloody told you that! Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. I'm not sure what they're doing, because I don't know for sure where their loyalties are anymore. But I'm concerned; Mother leaving me alone in this situation isn't something I would have expected.”

“Draco,” Harry said, “do you know any spells to find specific people? Or you, Sirius?”

“What? Why?” asked Sirius. “Oh wait, you're looking for Luna? Well, I do know one.”

With complicated patterns drawn in the air, he did something that looked both familiar and not familiar to Harry, and drew a series of runes in a small circle in the air with his wand. Then Sirius pointed his wand at the runes, they glowed, and rearranged themselves in the air so the circle was like a watch made of light on Sirius's arm, one of the runes pointing like a compass arrow.

“Ah good, she's deeper in the wood, let's go,” Sirius said.

“What is that thing, Sirius?”

“Runic casting circle, one type of them anyway. Slightly different use for runes than the usual, and they don't last as long as regular runes, but useful. Complicated technique to learn, but worth it.”

In a few minutes, they found Luna and Xeno. They both looked scared, which was unusual for both of them. Harry held Luna in a close hug to comfort her. Xeno hung back, covering their flank with Remus just in case the Death Eaters got too close.

A huddle of teenagers in pajamas was arguing vociferously a little way along the path as they all went deeper into the wood. When they saw Sirius, Harry, Ron, and the others, a girl with thick curly hair turned and said quickly, “Où est Madame Maxime? Nous l’avons perdue —”

“Er — what?” said Ron.

“Oh …” The girl who had spoken turned her back on him, and as they walked on they distinctly heard her say, “ ’Ogwarts.”

Draco stepped forward and said something in French to the teens. Then Sirius joined in the conversation. When it was over, the French teens all stayed with Sirius and their group.

“What were you two talking about with them?” asked Harry.

“Sirius and I invited them to stay. Strength in numbers, and all that. Plus, we explained that he's had auror training, even if it's been years and he has to retrain. Well okay, Sirius explained that.”

“Sirius can speak French?” Ron asked, amazed.

“Of course he can, you dolt, he's a member of the ancient and most noble house of Black. A pureblood. Most purebloods can speak French at least, as well as others. I wouldn't even be surprised if your mother knew French, she was a Prewett before she became a Weasley.”

“She's never spoken it around any of us.”

“In that case, if she wasn't rusty before, she'll be rusty now.”

A rustling noise nearby made all three of them jump. Winky the house-elf was fighting her way out of a clump of bushes nearby. She was moving in a most peculiar fashion, apparently with great difficulty; it was as though someone invisible were trying to hold her back.

“There is bad wizards about!” she squeaked distractedly as she leaned forward and labored to keep running. “People high — high in the air! Winky is getting out of the way!”

And she disappeared into the trees on the other side of the path, panting and squeaking as she fought the force that was restraining her.

“She's not telling the whole truth again,” Luna said quietly to Harry. “I wonder what she's hiding, and why.”

“What’s up with her?” said Ron, looking curiously after Winky. “Why can’t she run properly?”

“Bet she didn’t ask permission to hide,” said Harry. He was thinking of Dobby: Every time he had tried to do something the Malfoys wouldn’t like, the house-elf had been forced to start beating himself up.

“You know, house-elves get a very raw deal!” said Hermione indignantly. “I realize things are different for them than for humans, that their psychology is closer to dogs than to humans, but still, the mistreatment! I wish there was some way to give them a bit more freedom at least, like the right to refuse orders as long as they have a good reason, something like that. Winky's master made her go up to the top of the stadium, and she was terrified, and he’s got her bewitched so she can’t even run when they start trampling tents! Why doesn’t anyone do something about it?”

“Hermione,” Sirius said, “this isn't the time or the place. Anyway, I'm working on it. Ask Harry about it later, he knows what I mean.”

Another loud bang echoed from the edge of the wood.

“Let’s just keep moving, shall we?” said Ron. Sirius nodded, and they continued on. Draco translated for the French teens.

They followed the dark path deeper into the wood, passing a group of goblins who were cackling over a sack of gold that they had undoubtedly won betting on the match, and who seemed quite unperturbed by the trouble at the campsite. Farther still along the path, they walked into a patch of silvery light, and when they looked through the trees, they saw three tall and beautiful veela standing in a clearing, surrounded by a gaggle of young wizards, all of whom were talking very loudly.

“I pull down about a hundred sacks of Galleons a year!” one of them shouted. “I’m a dragon killer for the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures.”

“No, you’re not!” yelled his friend. “You’re a dishwasher at the Leaky Cauldron. … but I’m a vampire hunter, I’ve killed about ninety so far —”

A third young wizard, whose pimples were visible even by the dim, silvery light of the veela, now cut in, “I’m about to become the youngest ever Minister of Magic, I am.”

“No he's not, he's Stan Shunpike, a conductor on the Knight Bus,” said another. “But I'm a dragon killer for the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures.”

He turned to look at Ron, and saw Ron’s face had gone oddly slack, and next second Ron was yelling, “Did I tell you I’ve invented a broomstick that’ll reach Jupiter?”

Honestly!” said Hermione, and she and Harry grabbed Ron firmly by the arms, wheeled him around, and marched him away, Sirius laughing at Ron's problem. By the time the sounds of the veela and their admirers had faded completely, they were in the very heart of the wood. They seemed to be alone now; everything was much quieter.

Harry looked around. “I reckon we can just wait here, you know. We’ll hear anyone coming a mile off.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth, when Ludo Bagman emerged from behind a tree right ahead of them. Sirius's wand snapped up to point at the man.

“Ludo, what are you doing here?”

“What? I could ask you lot the same thing.”

They looked at one another, surprised.

“Well — there’s a sort of riot going on,” said Ron.

Bagman stared at him.

“What?”

“At the campsite … some people have got hold of a family of Muggles.”

“Death Eaters, Bagman,” Sirius added. “The wizards in question are Death Eaters.”

Bagman swore loudly.

“Damn them!” he said, looking quite distracted, and without another word, he disapparated with a small pop!

“Not exactly on top of things, Mr. Bagman, is he?” said Hermione, frowning.

“Yes,” Sirius said. “He does seem oddly distracted. I wonder what he's up to?”

Ron was saying something about Bagman's history as a Quidditch player, but Harry wasn't paying attention. He had a headache from all the noise earlier, and now everything was quiet it was all he had left to focus on. He pressed the green gem on the necklace Luna had given him the year before, and its soothing musical tone eased his headache symptoms just as she'd told them it would. He was grateful for this; too many headache potions could be toxic, and now he knew he had an alternative.

“I hope the others are okay,” said Hermione after a while.

“They’ll be fine,” said Ron.

“Those poor Muggles, though,” said Hermione nervously. “What if they can’t get them down?”

“They will,” said Ron reassuringly. “They’ll find a way.”

'I sense danger, human,' Mouse-Stalker said, looking in one direction in particular. 'Over there.'

“Mad, though, to do something like that when the whole Ministry of Magic’s out here tonight!” said Hermione. “I mean, how do they expect to get away with it? Do you think they’ve been drinking, or are they just —”

“Hush, Mouse-Stalker senses danger,” Harry said, pointing the way the snake had.

Hermione looked over her shoulder. Sirius, Harry, Ron, Draco and the others all turned to look around too. It sounded as though someone was staggering toward their clearing. They waited, listening to the sounds of the uneven steps behind the dark trees. But the footsteps came to a sudden halt.

“Identify yourself!” Sirius shouted into the trees, his wand pointing at the location of the sound. “Now!”

There was silence. Harry got to his feet and peered around the tree. It was too dark to see very far, but he could sense somebody standing just beyond the range of his vision.

“I SAID IDENTIFY YOURSELF!” Sirius shouted.

'Human,' Mouse-Stalker said, his head poking out of Harry's sleeve.

'What is it?'

'I don't know. The danger to us is lesser now. The danger is not turned toward us. Best remain wary though.'

'Thanks.'

“Sirius, Mouse-Stalker says the danger isn't turned toward us, but we should remain wary.”

Not answering Harry, Sirius shouted, “IDENTIFY YOURSELF NOW OR I'LL HEX YOU!”

And then, without warning, the silence was rent by a voice unlike any they had heard in the wood; and it uttered, not a panicked shout, but what sounded like a spell.

MORSMORDRE!”

And something vast, green, and glittering erupted from the patch of darkness Harry’s eyes had been struggling to penetrate; it flew up over the treetops and into the sky. Immediately, Sirius fired a stunner into the trees, as did Remus and Xeno, who were closer now. They followed it up with half a dozen more just in case.

“What the — ?” gasped Ron as he sprang to his feet again, staring up at the thing that had appeared.

For a split second, Harry thought it was another leprechaun formation. Then he realized that it was a colossal skull, comprised of what looked like emerald stars, with a serpent protruding from its mouth like a tongue. As they watched, it rose higher and higher, blazing in a haze of greenish smoke, etched against the black sky like a new constellation.

Suddenly, the wood all around them erupted with screams. Harry didn’t understand why, but the only possible cause was the sudden appearance of the skull, which had now risen high enough to illuminate the entire wood like some grisly neon sign. He scanned the darkness for the person who had conjured the skull, but he couldn’t see anyone. Of course, they were probably knocked out.

“Did you get him?”

“I hope so. Stay there, I'm going to check it out.”

“Harry, come on, move!” Hermione had seized the collar of his jacket and was tugging him backward.

“No! You lot stay here.”

“What’s the matter?” Harry said, startled to see her face so white and terrified.

“It’s the Dark Mark, Harry!” Hermione moaned, pulling him as hard as she could. “You-Know-Who’s sign!”

“Voldemort's sign?”

“Quel est ce crâne?” one of the Beauxbatons students asked.

“C'est le symbole du Seigneur des Ténèbres,” answered Draco.

“Vol de la mort?”

“Oui.”

Suddenly, a series of popping noises announced the arrival of twenty wizards, appearing from thin air, surrounding them.

Harry whirled around, and in an instant, he registered one fact: Each of these wizards had his wand out, and every wand was pointing right at himself, Ron, and Hermione.

Without pausing to think, he yelled, “DUCK!”

“DESCENDRE!” Draco yelled in French.

“STOP!” Sirius shouted. “THEY'RE KIDS!”

But they weren't listening, so Sirius quickly turned into a dog and fell to his belly.

STUPEFY!” roared twenty voices — there was a blinding series of flashes and Harry felt the hair on his head ripple as though a powerful wind had swept the clearing. Raising his head a fraction of an inch he saw jets of fiery red light flying over them from the wizards’ wands, crossing one another, bouncing off tree trunks, rebounding into the darkness —

“Stop!” yelled a voice he recognized. “STOP! That’s my son!”

Harry’s hair stopped blowing about. He raised his head a little higher. The wizard in front of him had lowered his wand. He rolled over and saw Mr. Weasley striding toward them, looking terrified.

“Ron — Harry” — his voice sounded shaky — “Hermione — are you all right?”

“We're fine, Arthur,” Sirius said. He was human again.

“Que se passe-t-il?” asked one of the Beauxbatons girls.

“Je ne sais pas,” Draco said. “Mais le Ministère de la Magie est là.”

“Out of the way, Arthur,” said a cold, curt voice.

It was Mr. Crouch. He and the other Ministry wizards were closing in on them. Harry got to his feet to face them. Mr. Crouch’s face was taut with rage.

“Which of you did it?” he snapped, his sharp eyes darting between them. “Which of you conjured the Dark Mark?”

“We didn’t do that!” said Harry, gesturing up at the skull.

“We didn’t do anything!” said Ron, who was rubbing his elbow and looking indignantly at his father. “What did you want to attack us for?”

“Do not lie, sir!” shouted Mr. Crouch. His wand was still pointing directly at Ron, and his eyes were popping — he looked slightly mad. Then he turned to Sirius. “You have been discovered at the scene of the crime!”

Sirius brandished his wand at Crouch. “Listen here, Crouch. I already spent 12 years in Azkaban because you were too incompetent to give me a fucking trial or even question me at all, and I don't fancy doing it again. If you want to arrest me for something, you'd better damned well get my solicitor over here before you do, because I'm not taking any of your shit ever again!”

“Sirius,” Remus said warningly, putting a hand on his shoulder. Sirius brushed him off.

“And anyway,” Sirius continued, “The three of us already stunned the berk who did it before you lot even got here, we must've sent half a dozen stunners in there!”

“Out of the way, Barty,” Mr. Weasley said. “You're not in any position to be making threats anymore.”

“Oh yeah, that's right,” Sirius said, half-smirking. “You're just a lowly interpreter now, aren't you? Oh how the mighty have fallen.”

“Don't antagonize him, Sirius,” Mr. Weasley said. “Where did the Mark come from, you lot?” said Mr. Weasley quickly.

“Over there,” said Hermione shakily, pointing at the place where they had heard the voice. “There was someone behind the trees … they shouted words — an incantation —”

“Oh, stood over there, did they?” said Mr. Crouch, turning his popping eyes on Hermione now, disbelief etched all over his face. “Said an incantation, did they? You seem very well informed about how that Mark is summoned, missy —”

“You shut the fuck up, Crouch! Leave these kids alone, you paranoid old git! It's not bad enough you have to have a go at me, but now you're accusing children of dark magic? Pull your head out of your arse!”

“I WILL NOT BE SPOKEN TO IN THIS MANNER! I AM--”

“A DISGRACED OLD LOONY! That's what you are! A washed up old has-been, reduced to--”

“SIRIUS! BARTEMIUS! This isn't helping, you two!” Mr. Weasley said.

“Hermione is right,” Remus said. “Right, Xeno?”

“Yes. The voice was an adult human's voice. Though I suppose it could've been a vampire, but they generally don't have wands, and I didn't hear any of the usual vampire accents from the voice.”

None of the Ministry wizards apart from Mr. Crouch seemed to think it remotely likely that Harry, Ron, or Hermione had conjured the skull, and they looked doubtful Sirius had done it either; strangely, nobody even considered Xeno for having done it, though some of them were giving Remus distrustful looks. So at Hermione’s words, they had all raised their wands again and were pointing in the direction she had indicated, squinting through the dark trees.

“We’re too late,” said the witch in the woolen dressing gown, shaking her head. “They’ll have Disapparated.”

“I don’t think so,” said a wizard with a scrubby brown beard. It was Amos Diggory, Cedric’s father. “Our Stunners went right through those trees. There’s a good chance we got them.”

“Yes, and then there was the stunners Sirius, Remus, and Xenophilius shot through the trees before you even got here,” Harry said.

“Amos, be careful!” said a few of the wizards warningly as Mr. Diggory squared his shoulders, raised his wand, marched across the clearing, and disappeared into the darkness. Hermione watched him vanish with her hands over her mouth.

A few seconds later, they heard Mr. Diggory shout.

“Yes! We got them! There’s someone here! Unconscious! It’s — but — blimey …”

“You’ve got someone?” shouted Mr. Crouch, sounding highly disbelieving. “Who? Who is it?”

They heard snapping twigs, the rustling of leaves, and then crunching footsteps as Mr. Diggory reemerged from behind the trees. He was carrying a tiny, limp figure in his arms. Harry recognized the tea towel at once. It was Winky.

Mr. Crouch did not move or speak as Mr. Diggory deposited his elf on the ground at his feet. The other Ministry wizards were all staring at Mr. Crouch. For a few seconds Crouch remained transfixed, his eyes blazing in his white face as he stared down at Winky. Then he appeared to come to life again.

“This — cannot — be,” he said jerkily. “No —”

He moved quickly around Mr. Diggory and strode off toward the place where he had found Winky.

“No point, Mr. Crouch,” Mr. Diggory called after him. “There’s no one else there.”

But Mr. Crouch did not seem prepared to take his word for it. Harry didn't blame him; Diggory had only been there a few seconds. They could hear Crouch moving around and the rustling of leaves as he pushed the bushes aside, searching.

“Bit embarrassing,” Mr. Diggory said grimly, looking down at Winky’s unconscious form. “Barty Crouch’s house-elf … I mean to say …”

“Oh come off it, Amos,” Sirius said. “The voice we heard was deep, a wizard's voice, not an elf. And you'd have to be a fool to think the elf could do it anyway. For one thing, she'd need a wand.”

“Yeah,” said Mr. Diggory, “and she had a wand.”

What?” said Mr. Weasley and Sirius at the same time.

“Here, look.” Mr. Diggory held up a wand and showed it to Mr. Weasley. “Had it in her hand. So that’s clause three of the Code of Wand Use broken, for a start. No non-human creature is permitted to carry or use a wand. With occasional exception,” he said, glaring at Remus.

“Oh, that's fair,” Harry said sarcastically.

“Pardon me, young man?”

“Gods,” Harry swore. “Bloody humans and their egotistical nonsense. It's no bloody wonder the goblins rebelled so many times.”

“Harry, let's not antagonize the Ministry officials,” Remus said.

“Why not? Mr. Diggory is being foolish. There's no way an elf would turn a wand on a human, or use one at all; it's not in their nature. And if, by some chance, she knew enough to cast that thing, she would've had to have been ordered to do so!”

“Good thing Crouch wasn't here to hear you say that, pup.”

“Winky was trying to get away from the Death Eaters, sir,” Hermione cut in. “She's afraid of heights, and they were floating people in the air. She was disobeying an order, but her safety was at risk, so I don't blame her.”

Just then there was another pop, and Ludo Bagman apparated right next to Mr. Weasley. Looking breathless and disorientated, he spun on the spot, goggling upward at the emerald-green skull.

“The Dark Mark!” he panted, almost trampling Winky as he turned inquiringly to his colleagues. “Who did it? Did you get them? Barty! What’s going on?”

Mr. Crouch had returned empty-handed. His face was still ghostly white, and his hands and his toothbrush mustache were both twitching.

“Where have you been, Barty?” said Bagman. “Why weren’t you at the match? Your elf was saving you a seat too — gulping gargoyles!” Bagman had just noticed Winky lying at his feet. “What happened to her?”

“I have been busy, Ludo,” said Mr. Crouch, still talking in the same jerky fashion, barely moving his lips. “And my elf has been stunned.”

“How do we know you didn't do it, Mr. Crouch?” Harry snapped.

Excuse me?” The man said, gritting his teeth.

“Harry, now would be a great time to shut up,” Draco said.

Mr. Crouch's attention turned to Draco. “Aha! You, boy: son of a Death Eater! YOU did this!”

“That was never proven! And anyway, I don't believe that bigoted rubbish anymore! I'm on Harry's side now.”

“Draco was with us the whole time, Crouch,” Sirius growled. “And does he look like an adult wizard or sound like he has a deep voice to you? If so, you need your eyes and your ears checked!”

“I don't know HOW he did it, but I know---”

“My godson trusts the boy, Crouch, and I trust Harry's judgment. Just because someone comes from a bigoted family doesn't make them bigots. You're trying to pull the same shit on Draco that you pulled on me, and I won't stand for it!”

“I say we check the clearing again, in case Mr. Crouch missed someone,” Harry said. “He's acting oddly suspicious.”

“Do you doubt my veracity, boy?”

Harry frowned. “Don't call me boy, ever again. I don't like that word, remember? And yes, I do doubt your veracity. Your behavior is very strange tonight, sir. How do we know you didn't conjure that mark?”

Draco and Sirius both groaned at this.

NOW who's throwing around baseless accusations?”

“Baseless? You're an adult male, with a deep voice. You fit the profile better than any of us do. Even Sirius's voice isn't the right pitch or timbre to be the one who cast that thing!”

“What evidence do you have for this?”

“If you want, we can all provide memories of the incident, to peruse in a pensieve. We could take veritaserum, too, if you'd like.”

“Harry,” Remus said, “I really don't think Mr. Crouch had anything to do with it. You would too, if you knew his reputation from the war.”

“Enough of this!” Amos Diggory said. “I found this elf holding a wand. If it’s all right with you lot, I think we should hear what she’s got to say for herself.”

“Admittedly, that is a bit odd,” Harry said. “But I'm sure she just picked it up off the ground, found it.”

“If so, then she would've been close enough to have seen the culprit!”

Nobody had anything to say to this, not even Sirius. So Mr. Diggory raised his own wand, pointed it at Winky, and said, “Rennervate!”

Winky stirred feebly. Her great brown eyes opened and she blinked several times in a bemused sort of way. Watched by the silent wizards, she raised herself shakily into a sitting position. She caught sight of Mr. Diggory’s feet, and slowly, tremulously, raised her eyes to stare up into his face; then, more slowly still, she looked up into the sky. Harry could see the floating skull reflected twice in her enormous, glassy eyes. She gave a gasp, looked wildly around the crowded clearing, and burst into terrified sobs.

“Elf!” said Mr. Diggory sternly. “Do you know who I am? I’m a member of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures!”

Winky began to rock backward and forward on the ground, her breath coming in sharp bursts. Harry was reminded forcibly of Dobby in his moments of terrified disobedience.

“Oh for fuck's sake, Amos!” Sirius shouted. “Even I was treated better than that when I was being arrested and thrown in bloody Azkaban for a crime I hadn't committed! Let me question her instead!”

“No! This is my jurisdiction, my department! You're just a bloody Auror recruit, Mr. Black!”

“Yes, and a sad state of affairs the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is in if people like you are working there!”

“What is THAT supposed to mean?”

“It means you're a wizard supremacist, with little or no respect for the other sapient beings we share this planet with!”

“Just because I don't shag a bloody werewolf--”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Mr. Weasley said. “Neither of you is in a fit state to question anyone calmly. How about I do it?”

The two men, their arms folded, said nothing, just glaring daggers at each other. Mr. Weasley took this as assent. He turned to Winky and sat down on the ground in front of her so she didn't have to crane her neck at him.

“Winky dear, you were found with a wand in your hand. How did it get there?”

“I – I – I is finding it on the ground, sir. Over there, sir,” she said, still rocking back and forth. Harry sat down next to her as well, and handed her his dragon-hide bracelet, to see if stroking it would help calm her. To his relief, it did. She smiled at him.

“Th-thank you, Harry Potter. I is being very grateful, sir.”

“Is this the wand you found, Winky?” Mr. Weasley said, holding it up.

Before she could answer, Ron shouted, “Hey! That's mine!”

Everyone in the clearing looked at him.

“Excuse me?” said Mr. Diggory, incredulously.

“That’s my wand!” said Ron. “I lost it!”

“You lost it?” repeated Mr. Diggory in disbelief. “Is this a confession? You threw it aside after you conjured the Mark?”

“Amos,” Sirius said warningly. “Don't you start in with this nonsense too!”

“Er... right.” Mr. Diggory said. “Sorry, got carried away.”

“I didn’t lose it there, anyway,” Ron said. “I noticed I was missing it when I grabbed my holster in the tents. It must've been snatched up or snagged on something during the match, or on our way to or from it.”

“So,” said Mr. Diggory, his eyes hardening as he turned to look at Winky again, cowering at his feet. “You found this wand, eh, elf? And you picked it up and thought you’d have some fun with it, did you?”

“WOULD YOU STOP THIS NONSENSE?” Sirius shouted.

“Enough! You two, separate! Now!”

Grumbling, Crouch and Sirius moved apart. Mr. Weasley nodded, and went back to talking with Winky. He was kind and gentle, but she was so shaken up by the fighting that he couldn't get a word out of her, though he tried for several minutes.

“Arthur,” Xeno Lovegood said, “I think I can help in this matter. I know elf-speech.”

Mr. Weasley sighed. “Fine, alright. Might as well give it a shot, I'm not making any progress. You take over, Xeno.”

Xeno took Mr. Weasley's place on the ground, did something to his throat with his wand, and started speaking to Winky in a high-pitched language that barely even sounded like language. It was squeaky, like he had inhaled helium just before speaking, and yet it was also oddly musical; suddenly the elves' naturally high-pitched voices made a lot of sense. Though Harry hadn't the foggiest idea how Xeno was able to get up into some of the higher registers the language apparently required, though that was probably what he'd used his wand on his throat for. Point was, he was managing it somehow, and it seemed to soothe and comfort Winky even more.

Mr. Diggory was suspicious, though. He was glaring at the two of them like they were doing something obscene. If Harry had to guess, he thought Mr. Diggory was suspicious of what they were saying in a language he clearly couldn't understand. Mr. Crouch looked suspicious as well.

Ron, on the other hand, was trying to hold back laughter at the sound of Mr. Lovegood talking like a sped-up tape of a chorus of mice practicing for a big concert at Disney World. He wasn't the only one, either; the twins were laughing into their hands, the girls were giggling, and even Harry was starting to crack up. The adult wizards who'd come when the Mark had been made were also holding back laughter, with the exception of Mr. Diggory and Mr. Crouch.

Xeno put his wand to his throat again, then stood up.

“She's calmer now, Arthur, if you want to start questioning her again.”

“Right. Thank you, Xeno.”

They traded places again, and Mr. Weasley said gently, “Is this the wand you picked up, Winky?”

“Yes, sir. That is being the wand Winky is finding.”

“Good. And where did you find it?”

“I is finding it over there, sir. In that part of the woods, sir.”

“Did you see anyone else when you found the wand, Winky?”

“No, sir. I is seeing no-one, sir.”

“Okay. Why did you pick it up, Winky?”

“I is not doing magic with it,” she said earnestly. “I is not knowing how, sir. I is just finding it, sir, on the ground. Some wizard or witch is lost their wand, sir, and Winky is wanting to return it.”

“Well we should probably see if whoever had this wand before you was even the culprit.”

Mr. Weasley put the tip of his wand to the tip of Ron's.

Prior Incantato.”

Harry heard Hermione gasp, horrified, as a gigantic serpent-tongued skull erupted from the point where the two wands met, but it was a mere shadow of the green skull high above them; it looked as though it were made of thick gray smoke: the ghost of a spell.

Deletrius,” Mr. Weasley said, and the smoky skull vanished.

Mr. Diggory opened his mouth to speak, but Sirius pointed his wand at the man, and suddenly Mr. Diggory was voiceless. He glared at Sirius, who glared right back.

“I is not doing it,” Winky said, her eyes watering. “I is not knowing how.”

“I believe you, Winky,” Mr. Weasley said. “Did you hear anyone before you found the wand?”

“I is hearing a wizard shouting something; a spell, I is thinking. I is not remembering the words, sir.”

“And how close to you was the voice?”

“Not far, sir. Several feet. But I is seeing no-one sir.”

Xeno asked Winky something in elf-speech. She answered back.

“She says, after I asked her for clarification, that whoever it was was invisible.”

“Thank you, Xeno. Winky, did you recognize the voice of the person who conjured that skull?”

Winky shifted in place uncomfortably a little, wringing her hands, then said, “I is never hearing such a voice before in my life, sir.”

Mr. Weasley sighed. “Well thank you, Winky. It's not terribly helpful, but that's not your fault.”

“Amos,” said Mr. Crouch curtly, “I am fully aware that, in the ordinary course of events, you would want to take Winky into your department for questioning. I ask you, however, to allow me to deal with her.” He glared at her. “You may rest assured that she will be punished,” Mr. Crouch added coldly.

“M-m-master…” Winky stammered, looking up at Mr. Crouch, her eyes brimming with tears. “M-m-master, p-p-please...”

“Are you mad?” Sirius shouted. “She didn't do it, and she didn't see who did it! What're you punishing her for?”

Mr. Crouch stared back at Winky, his face somehow sharpened, each line upon it more deeply etched. There was no pity in his gaze.

“Winky has behaved tonight in a manner I would not have believed possible,” he said slowly. “I told her to remain in the tent. I told her to stay there while I went to sort out the trouble. And I find that she disobeyed me. This means clothes.”

“No!” shrieked Winky, prostrating herself at Mr. Crouch’s feet. “No, master! Not clothes, not clothes!”

Harry knew that the only way to turn a house-elf free was to present it with proper garments. It was pitiful to see the way Winky clutched at her tea towel as she sobbed over Mr. Crouch’s feet.

“This is just like my lack of a trial all over again, Crouch! What is with you and punishing innocent people for things they didn't do?”

“And she was frightened!” Hermione burst out angrily, glaring at Mr. Crouch. “Your elf’s scared of heights, and those wizards in masks were levitating people! You can’t blame her for wanting to get out of their way!”

Mr. Crouch took a step backward, freeing himself from contact with the elf, whom he was surveying as though she were something filthy and rotten that was contaminating his over-shined shoes.

“I have no use for a house-elf who disobeys me,” he said coldly, looking over at Hermione. “I have no use for a servant who forgets what is due to her master, and to her master’s reputation.”

Winky was crying so hard that her sobs echoed around the clearing. There was a very nasty silence, which was ended by Mr. Weasley, who said quietly, “Well, I think I’ll take my lot back to the tent, if nobody’s got any objections. Amos, that wand’s told us all it can — if Ron could have it back, please —”

Mr. Diggory handed Ron his wand back, Ron putting it back in his holster, carefully securing it the way he should have to begin with.

“Just a moment, Arthur. I've had about all I can stand of this... this... man. This Crouch. How dare you punish your elf when she did nothing wrong!”

“I told you, Black, she disobeyed me!”

“So what? If kids break the law and use magic out of school because their lives are in danger, we don't punish them. Your elf's life was in danger, that's why she disobeyed!”

“She is my property, I can punish her if I so choose!”

“We'll see how long that remains true, Crouch. Remember that I'm a Lord with a seat on the Wizengamot now.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“If that's what it takes to convince you to treat your house elf with the dignity and respect she deserves, then yes!”

“She is a house elf, not a person. I am well within my rights--”

“You really are a piece of work aren't you? No mercy, no compassion. Probably no soul.”

“I'm warning you, Black...”

But Sirius was ignoring Crouch again. He whispered something to Xeno, who nodded at Sirius and then turned to Winky, speaking with her in elf-speech again. It took him a little bit to get her to stop crying enough to listen, but when she did they had another conversation for several minutes.

“What was that you were saying to her?” Crouch demanded.

“That's between Winky and Xeno and I,” Sirius said. “You're dismissing Winky anyway, what do you care?”

Crouch narrowed his eyes at Sirius. “If this is about that mistake with your incarceration---”

Sirius let out several barks of laughter. “Oh that's a good one, Crouch. You know, I was going to just chalk it up to incompetence, but now I see you're a malicious bastard, in your own way. There's nothing more important to you than your bloody fucking reputation, is there, Crouch? You even sent your own bloody son to Azkaban, I heard. The boy died in prison, and you didn't even attend his damn burial. I know, because I saw it from my cell's window. Come on, you lot,” Sirius said, grabbing Harry's hand. “If I have to be around this man any longer I might just puke.”

But Hermione didn’t seem to want to move; her eyes were still upon the sobbing elf. “Hermione!” Mr. Weasley said, more urgently. She turned and followed Harry and Ron out of the clearing and off through the trees.

“What’s going to happen to Winky?” said Hermione, the moment they had left the clearing.

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Weasley.

I do,” Sirius said. “Once he dismisses her, she's going to come work for me. That's what I had Xeno talking with her about in that last elf-speech conversation they had.”

“Exactly,” Xeno said. “Such fascinating beings as house elves, they need to be treated with honor and respect.”

“Work for you?” Hermione said, confused. “But you already have two elves.”

“Not a problem. Dobby is going to be going to Hogwarts on loan to Dumbledore, so he can help keep Harry safe, since something always seems to happen every bloody year. I don't know whether she'll get on better with Kreacher or Dobby, but whichever one she does, I'll put her with, to try to keep her stable.”

“Stable? What do you mean 'stable'?” Hermione said.

“House elves don't like being freed, usually; Dobby was a highly unusual case. Ever abandon a dog, Hermione? No I didn't think you had, but surely you've seen things on the telly about it. They pine for their masters. Sometimes they manage to adjust, and other times they die of a broken heart. House elves are much the same way. She might be fine, or she might become extremely depressed. I want to try to make sure she'll be fine. I'm going to go have Dobby track her down in case she decides not to take me up on my offer.”

“You're a good man, Sirius,” Luna said.

“Thanks, Luna.”

“Well I'm glad you're taking her in, Sirius,” Hermione said. “I don't blame you getting angry with those two idiots. Mr. Diggory, calling her ‘elf’ all the time... and Mr. Crouch! He knows she didn’t do it and he’s still going to sack her! He didn’t care how frightened she’d been, or how upset she was. It's just good she'll have you afterwards, Sirius.”

“Yes. Though I admit I'm not terribly hopeful she'll be okay. The level of devotion she has to that man, I could hear it in her elf-speech; she's going to be a wreck, the poor dear.”

“You know elf-speech too?”

“Not really. But I heard enough of it growing up that I could understand her tone at least, and a few words here and there. She adores Crouch for some bloody reason.”

“Dad, why was everyone so uptight about that skull thing?”

“I’ll explain everything back at the tent,” said Mr. Weasley tensely.

But when they reached the edge of the wood, their progress was impeded. A large crowd of frightened-looking witches and wizards was congregated there, and when they saw Mr. Weasley coming toward them, many of them surged forward.

“What’s going on in there?”

“Who conjured it?”

“Arthur — it’s not — Him?”

Before Mr. Weasley could answer, Sirius cut in. “No comment! No really, no bloody comment!”

“Right,” Mr. Weasley said, catching on. “No comment!”

“Not to worry,” Xeno said to the crowd, “I'll print up a special edition of The Quibbler all about it later, never you fret. But suffice it to say nobody was hurt.”

When they were away from the crowd, Mr. Weasley said, “Thanks for that, Sirius. In all the fuss I almost forgot and said something. Better Xeno said something than I; he doesn't work for the Ministry, so the most Skeeter can do is lampoon Xeno.”

“I figured you needed the reminder, with all the hubub. I know I was tempted to say something too. But that Rita Skeeter cow would've twisted it around somehow, as you say. I remember her from back during the war, and from what I've read of her tripe in the Daily Profit, she hasn't gotten any better.”

The two men kept leading them all back, the French teenagers from Beauxbatons catching up with the adults in charge of them along the way. A few minutes later, Draco found his parents and left with them.

When they were gone, Luna turned to Harry and whispered, “I didn't want to say anything in front of those horrible men before, Harry, but Winky wasn't being entirely honest again.”

“What? She was lying?”

“Not exactly. Everything she said was true. Elves can't really lie, it's not in their natures, but they can refuse to speak, dance around the truth, word things so they can be deliberately misinterpreted, or leave things out and let you fill in the gaps yourself. She wasn't lying, but she wasn't telling the whole truth, either. She was leaving something out. And that last answer she gave was so close to a lie it almost wasn't allowed, I could tell by her body language. She knows who did it, and isn't telling anyone for some reason.”

“But why? Who's she protecting, her master?”

“It's possible. Elves are bound to keep their masters' secrets and their silence. They might be able to tell other elves, but I think that depends on a lot of other factors. And I don't think she'll tell anyone – human, elf, or otherwise – unless she trusts them. Which at this point, I think that means she'll only tell family members, if she tells anyone at all.”

Harry didn't know what to say to that, so he said nothing.

“Well, Harry,” Xeno said, “Luna and I are going back to our tents, assuming they're still there. Later!”

“Bye!” he said, waving.

When the rest of them got to their own tents, Charlie’s head was poking out of the boys’ tent.

“Dad, what’s going on?” he called through the dark.

“Did you get them, Dad?” said Bill sharply. “The person who conjured the Mark?”

“No,” said Mr. Weasley.

Between him and Sirius, they managed to relay to the others the important parts of what had happened in the woods. When they had finished their story, Percy swelled indignantly.

“Well, Mr. Crouch is quite right to get rid of an elf like that!” he said. “Running away when he’d expressly told her not to … embarrassing him in front of the whole Ministry … how would that have looked, if she’d been brought up in front of the Department for the Regulation and Control —”

“Not you too, Percy!” Sirius growled.

“Sirius, let me handle Percy,” Harry said.

“Fine, you know him better than I do.”

“Percy, she didn't do anything wrong,” Harry said. “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He shouldn't have punished her.”

“But she disobeyed an order!”

“She was scared of heights. And there were bad men hurting people. Really, can you seriously blame her for being scared?”

“She was running amok with a wand!”

“No, she picked it up off the ground, to return it to whoever lost it. If she were a human child doing the same thing, would you say she should be punished?”

“I... well no, but she's not a human child, she's a house elf!”

“So what? She's still an innocent.”

“I...” something about Harry's tone and expression melted Percy's resolve. “But... she disobeyed.”

“Do you think rules are always right, Percy? If the Minister of Magic told you to murder your dad, would you?”

Percy's eyes went wide with shock. “Of course not! Don't be absurd!”

“So she disobeyed, so what? She only did it because she was terrified. Sure, Mr. Crouch can't predict everything that might happen, but he should have had some kind of understanding with her, exceptions to her orders, orders to get to safety if she's in danger, over-riding any other orders. Crouch didn't punish her so much for disobeying as he did for his own failure to take her terror into account, and for his failure to care about her life and safety. He was being unreasonable.”

Percy sighed, running his hands through his hair. “I suppose you have a point, Harry. I just... I don't know. No, you're right. Sorry for being... well, sorry for being a bit of an arse.”

“Apology accepted, Percy.”

“Look, can someone just explain what that skull thing was?” said Ron impatiently. “It wasn’t hurting anyone. … Why’s it such a big deal?”

“I told you, it’s You-Know-Who’s symbol, Ron,” said Hermione, before anyone else could answer. “I read about it in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts.”

“And it hasn’t been seen for thirteen years,” said Mr. Weasley quietly. “Of course people panicked … it was almost like seeing You-Know-Who back again.”

“I don’t get it,” said Ron, frowning. “I mean, it’s still only a shape in the sky.”

“Ron, You-Know-Who and his followers sent the Dark Mark into the air whenever they killed,” said Mr. Weasley. “The terror it inspired … you have no idea, you’re too young. Just picture coming home and finding the Dark Mark hovering over your house, and knowing what you’re about to find inside.” Mr. Weasley winced. “Everyone’s worst fear, the very worst.”

“It's a trigger,” Harry said. “The war would've given anyone who lived through it PTSD, and seeing that skull thing would've been like being right back in the middle of all that terror and death again.”

“Oh,” Ron said, turning green. “Bloody hell, no wonder everyone was so scared.”

There was silence for a moment. Then Bill, removing the sheet from his arm to check on his cut, said, “Well, it didn’t help us tonight, whoever conjured it. It scared the Death Eaters away the moment they saw it. They all Disapparated before we’d got near enough to unmask any of them. We caught the Robertses before they hit the ground, though. They’re having their memories modified right now.”

“We can’t prove it was them, Bill,” said Mr. Weasley. “Though it probably was,” he added hopelessly.

Sirius slammed his fist on the table, startling everyone. “What the hell were those berks thinking?”

“No idea, Padfoot old pal,” Remus said wearily. He looked exhausted.

“I reckon they got drunk and wanted to relive their glory days,” Mr. Weasley answered in disgust.

“Sorry,” said Harry quickly. “But what were You-Know-Who’s supporters up to, levitating Muggles? I mean, what was the point?”

“The point?” said Mr. Weasley with a hollow laugh. “Harry, that’s their idea of fun. Half the Muggle killings back when You-Know-Who was in power were done for fun. I suppose they had a few drinks tonight and couldn’t resist reminding us all that lots of them are still at large. A nice little reunion for them,” he finished disgustedly.

“But if they were the Death Eaters, why did they Disapparate when they saw the Dark Mark?” said Ron. “They’d have been pleased to see it, wouldn’t they?”

“Use your brains, Ron,” said Bill. “If they really were Death Eaters, they worked very hard to keep out of Azkaban when You-Know-Who lost power, and told all sorts of lies about him forcing them to kill and torture people. I bet they’d be even more frightened than the rest of us to see him come back. They denied they’d ever been involved with him when he lost his powers, and went back to their daily lives. … I don’t reckon he’d be over-pleased with them, do you?”

“So whoever conjured the Dark Mark,” said Hermione slowly, “were they doing it to show support for the Death Eaters, or to scare them away?”

“Your guess is as good as ours, Hermione,” said Mr. Weasley. “But I’ll tell you this: it was only the Death Eaters who ever knew how to conjure it. I’d be very surprised if the person who did it hadn’t been a Death Eater once, even if they’re not now. Listen, it’s very late, and if your mother hears what’s happened she’ll be worried sick. We’ll get a few more hours sleep and then try and get an early Portkey out of here.”

Harry looked at Remus, but he was falling asleep in his chair, so Harry instead looked at Sirius, who caught his eye. Harry mouthed, “Dream: coincidence?”

Sirius shook his head and stepped outside, a white light briefly flashing after he did. Harry was glad Sirius agreed that it wasn't a coincidence. Three days ago — it felt like much longer, but it had only been three days — he had awoken with his scar burning. And tonight, for the first time in thirteen years, Lord Voldemort’s mark had appeared in the sky. What did these things mean?

When Harry went back to bed, he thought about these things for a very long time, unable to sleep, until exhaustion finally caught up with him and he dozed off at last.

Endnotes: Ugh, all those italics... *piteous whine* So much formatting! *moans* Stupid em and strong not working on here, making me have to replace them all with i and b.

Borrowed the idea of runic casting from “To Reach Without” by inwardtransience (fanfiction.net and Archive Of Our Own), but in this 'verse some forms of runic casting are legal, just difficult to learn; some other applications of it may still be illegal. If you like long, well written stories with transgender characters in them, “To Reach Without” is a great one, as it features trans-girl Harry! That story also gave me the idea for elves having their own language. As to where Xeno learned it, well, he's a magizoologist among other things. Primarily into cryptids, but still, it makes sense he'd want to learn elf-speech.

I may have gotten slightly carried away with the scene where Winky got caught with Ron's wand (Harry's in canon). But Sirius is a good man and doesn't suffer fools or bigots lightly.

By the way: in this fic, Crouch Junior stole Ron's wand instead of Harry's because Harry's was too well secured in its holster. Ron – being lazy – had his wand unsecured in its holster, it was a lot easier to slip his wand out than it was to try to figure out all the straps and buckles and buttons Harry has his wand secured by when he isn't using it much, like in the summer months when he's technically not supposed to be using it at all.

Also, I spelled it Daily Profit (with an F) on purpose, because that's the spelling Sirius was picturing in his head.

I don't actually know much French, so those parts are thanks to Google Translate. Any mistakes are Google's.

I haven't decided if Sirius and Remus are an item or not. But they are close enough it does get noticed and talked about.



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